"I Don't Get It": How to Teach Technology to Technophobes

Updated: April 30, 2009

Every trainer has run into a trainee who seems to resist learning. Often, the subject matter being taught is technology-based — an automated system that replaces paperwork, a CRM system, a word-processing application or any new digital way of doing things. How can you overcome this resistance to help the employee become a productive member of the corporate team?

Trainees who resist technology are described as technophobes — literally, people who are afraid of technology. But technology is not what they really fear. What technophobes truly fear is loss of status, money, control or something else that they value. Somehow, technology poses a threat to something that the person fears losing, and so technology is met with resistance. Your task as a trainer is to minimize the fear of loss, and thus lower the person's resistance to technology.

Soothing Fears

Technophobia most often strikes older workers who are accustomed to doing things without the aid of technology. Younger workers generally take to technology readily, and even demand it in their jobs. Trainers can help older workers overcome technophobia if the training includes some subtle examples of older workers who have learned to use the technology effectively. Often, it is a good idea to team technophobes with trainers near their own ages. The perception that "If I can do this, so can you" goes a long way toward overcoming technophobia.

In every case of technophobia, you will find elements of insecurity and ignorance about what technology means to the person's job security. Some people think that technology will make them obsolete. Others feel as if computers are "taking over the world" and eliminating their ability to bring a human touch to their work. The solution to these sources of technophobia is to show how the technology makes a worker more valuable and how it empowers workers to make decisions that are in line with company values.

Entry-level workers may fear losing their self-perceptions of competence. They think that training will demonstrate that they cannot do the job using the technology provided. Training for such people should be broken into small steps to gradually build the trainees' confidence in their abilities. Training should include plenty of positive reinforcement for success and plenty of practice for each step in the curriculum. Don't throw things at entry-level workers too quickly.

Training Higher-Level Workers

Experienced workers faced with a new, technology-based way of performing a task may feel that their accustomed routines are being threatened. What has worked for them (sort of) all this time is now being replaced by a digital system of unknown quality. They fear that the technology will not work at all — or at least won't work as well as the time-tested way of doing things. The new methods may also seem to diminish the worker's control over what information is shared and what information is kept confidential and may thereby be seen as a threat to the worker's status. The new system may include extra work that threatens the worker's perception of freedom. There may be extra data to be input, new reports to generate and so on.

Training for experienced workers should emphasize the time-saving aspects of the new technology. It is important to show workers what benefits they will receive in return for learning to use the new system. The investment of extra data-entry effort will yield benefits in better information-retrieval capabilities, for example. Emphasize how the new system makes it easier and faster to process more work, and you can overcome the employees' fear of losing freedom and control.

Executives often resist technology because it generally involves what they consider to be clerical skills. Typing is a threat to executives' self-perceived status, and they may also fear that sharing information with other departments will erode their power base within the company. In these cases, technology should be presented as a means of empowering the executives to find the information they want when they want it. The sharing of information cuts both ways and benefits the entire company.

At whatever level you encounter technophobia, it is important to be mindful of what the worker fears losing. Then, it's a matter of demonstrating that there will be no net loss, only a gain in productivity and job satisfaction.

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